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Routes into radio – A Skillset conference

February 25, 2009

Radio is such a Cinderella medium that it’s lovely to be invited into the ballroom of a posh hotel in Brighton to talk about it!

Hosted by David ‘Kid’ Jensen as Prince Charming, the day was a celebration of Skillset’s Routes into Radio project. Beneath the crystal chandeliers we debated the future of radio training and heard about ‘Routes’. This new short training programme, including work experience, is organised by the sector skills council, supported by the BBC, commercial and community radio and SEEDA, the regional development agency.

Each trainee paid £500 and attended a series of workshops before signing on for a work placement, attached to a mentor. Some of the trainees gave their own personal perspectives on the scheme, and a slick DVD showed the highlights. Of the 24 who started, nine now have casual contracts to work freelance in radio, and the pilot project is reckoned to be a success and worth duplicating in other regions. Given the struggling, fragmented and competitive nature of regional, local and community radio at present, Skillset must surely be congratulated for getting them all to work together in this way.

Diversity among radio trainees?

Diversity was one theme of the day and most of the panels seemed to nod in this direction. There were black, white and Asian speakers. One of the Routes into Radio trainees, Barbara Manackjee, is an older woman. However the session on new media was entirely staffed by middle-aged white men. Is this the future? Should we worry? I must admit that sometimes my ability to fix equipment seems entirely due to my lack of testicles; as soon as a male colleague appears the kit inevitably starts working again!

The two disabled delegates (one wheelchair user and one visually impaired) made their presence felt but did not seem to receive much satisfaction, and the Routes into Radio project did not seem geared-up for people with disabilities. Many difficult questions were tackled about radio’s training needs at the conference and a surprising number of key speakers revealed that they are non-graduates and do not believe it is necessary to have a degree to succeed in radio. When Diane Kemp of the Broadcast Journalism Training Council tried to defend higher education’s contribution to radio skills she was cast rather unfairly in the role of an Ugly Sister. Of course there is a place for Routes into Radio as one way in to the industry. But without the progression offered by FE colleges and university courses it will have limited value.

Community radio too found its educative role underplayed and Community Media Association’s Jacqui Devereux likewise was rightly indignant. Still the debate was mainly amicable with no real party-poopers, and it will continue. Skillset’s Head of Radio Amy Thomas was inviting delegates to email suggestions to her at amyt@skillset.org

Jan Whyatt – Senior Lecturer in Radio, University of Westminster ends

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